How Do Bail Bonds Work?

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Anyone who has watched a courtroom drama is familiar with the term bail, but few people know how the bail process actually works. Learning about the bail bonds process is an excellent way to gain insight into the American legal system.

Bail Basics

A person who is suspected of a crime is arrested by a law enforcement agency, and then booked. This process involves taking a mugshot, fingerprints and a statement. The accused individual may either be held in custody until their trial or released on bail. When bail is posted, the funds are held by the court until the trial proceedings are concluded. Essentially, the bail money helps to ensure that the defendant returns for their court date and their funds. However, most defendants do not have enough money to pay their bail.

The Bail Bondsman

The amount of bail required is determined by the court. The defendant, or someone working on their behalf, contacts a bail bondsman to handle their case in the event that they cannot afford the bail. The bail bond agency is backed up by an insurance company, and they pledge to pay the bond in full if the defendant fails to make their court appearance. In exchange for making this payment and promise to the court, the bail bond agent collects a premium from the defendant. Typically, this premium amounts to a percentage, often 10%, of the total bond. Additionally, the bail bondsman may ask for some type of collateral. This collateral may include the title to a car, house or other valuable property that the bondsman may seize if the defendant fails to show up in court.

Responsibility of the Bail Bondsman

When an agent puts up a bail bond for a defendant, the accused is effectively released into their custody. The bondsman becomes responsible for ensuring that the defendant appears in court. Accordingly, bondsmen are available to assist clients whenever necessary, since their financial interests lie with making sure defendants behave the way the court expects them to. When a defendant fails to make an appearance, the court can hold the bail bondsman responsible. That’s why the bondsman may call in a bounty hunter, when legal, to track down a defendant who disappears before their court date. If things go as planned and the defendant appears in court, the bail bondsman receives their funds from the court at the conclusion of proceedings.

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